Of shepherds and sheep

I seem to do all my deep thinking in the shower. Recently, I began to think about church leaders and monetary affluence. I recalled the wealthy young ruler when he asked Jesus what he must do to be saved. Jesus recited everything the young man must do to which the young man answered that he had done all that since birth. Jesus then added that he lacked one thing, that he must sell all that he had, give it to the poor, and come follow Jesus. At that point the young ruler walked away with a heavy heart because he had much wealth. For the real, unparaphrased version see Mark 10:17-31.

I thought about the church leaders in all the churches I have ever attended. Of the ones that I can recall, I can’t remember any church leaders who were not affluent. Even in my current church the elders are affluent, though they are effective leaders and Godly men. It makes me wonder, however, when the shepherds live above the sheep, can they really understand the needs of the sheep? Can they really protect them? Can they help them? I have to ask a rhetorical question; at what point does wealth become detrimental to a shepherd?

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10 thoughts on “Of shepherds and sheep

  1. th

    Dutchman:

    I, too, have often had affluent Elders serving in the churches I’ve attended. Many times this is because the same godly traits that have enabled them to lead the church well have contributed to their success in business. Sometimes, God has simply blessed them.

    I wouldn’t use wealth as my criterion. Do the Elders possess the traits of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1? Is wealth a distraction to them? The Rich Young Ruler was not condemned for his wealth, but Jesus knew his particular weakness. The fact that he couldn’t give up his possessions meant that for him, wealth had become an idol. Can your Elders give up their wealth?

    By the world’s standards, we Americans are all affluent. You probably own your own home and earn an income that is above many Americans, and certainly above the rest of the world. Could you relate to a family of lesser means? Perhaps you couldn’t relate, empathetically, to extreme poverty, but could you not love an impoverished family? If you were an Elder, would your income prevent you from leading them?

    I ask this because these are the same questions that we ought to ask concerning our Elders. Do they love the sheep? Are they employing Christ’s principles in their leadership? Are they hospitable and generous?

  2. The Flying Dutchman

    Oh boy I knew this would be a good topic!

    Absolutely, my wife and I discussed the same thing. A man who is gifted with foresight, leadership, organization, etc, is going to be very successful in business. These are the same traits that make for a successful church leader. This is what the physical church needs. Do they necessarily benefit the spiritual church?

    Americans are very affluent by world standards which is why I think we are blind to a lot of the problems that wealth brings. I know that I would not handle wealth well which is why our Lord has blessed me with just enough and then some. But I have to wonder… would an elder that earns $100,000 / year (roughly twice my household’s single income) be able to relate to me and my problems. Yes. $200,000 / year? Probably. $1,000,000 / year? Ah… I don’t think he could relate to me at this point. Why? Because the experience is too different. Shepherds must live among their sheep.
    More is expected of those whom the Lord has given more. Does this just mean more empathy? Or is it more sacrifice?

    As to would an elder give up his wealth? I don’t know, never seen it happen. 🙂

    Sorry this response is a little disjointed. I’ve had little sleep and a very long day. May our Lord bless you with “just enough.”

    Oh and to answer your question, yes my elders do display the above elderly charactaristics, and not all of them are wealthy.

  3. th

    Good points.

    Actually, my thought regarding the success in business was the reverse of the normal model. Traditionally, many churches promote men to leadership who have been savvy in the marketplace. I don’t think this is a good practice; it assumes what you said above – that a good administrator in business makes a good administrator in the church.

    What I suggest is that some Elders may be successful in business because they have the godly traits that have not only led them to become good shepherds in the church, but also to become successful in business. I still believe, because I’ve experienced it myself, that God blesses His own. This isn’t meant to be a “health and wealth gospel” type of comment – since all Christians must be prepared to suffer. However, traits of sober-mindedness, temperance, hospitality, generosity, self-sacrifice, leadership, discernment, and so on, the very traits required of an Elder, can also lead to a blessed business enterprise.

    It is true that sometimes an Elder with much can have trouble identifying with a family that has little. I think just as often a family with little has trouble struggling with envy regarding an Elder that has much. The two temptations can make relationships suffer – that’s why an Elder needs to work that much harder to remove income distractions and barriers. Perhaps the wealthy Elder opens his home more, perhaps he makes the effort to be more self-effacing and avoids talk of possessions.

    Ultimately, my question would be to any person, including myself – are we praying for our Elders? Are we holding them up, realizing that they not only have a noble task, but are worthy of double honor (even as they are doubly accountable before God)?

  4. The Flying Dutchman

    Very good point about Godly traits making one successful. The blessings of pursuing holiness would surely overflow beyond one’s eccumenical life.

    I guess it’s difficult for me to understand why God would bless someone with wealth given all the difficulties rich people are supposed to have getting into heaven. That could be because *I* have such difficulty with wealth. I know that I am not the type of person that would use wealth wisely. Praise God that He blesses me with just enough. I used to get envious of wealthier persons but at this stage in my journey I am very content with the blessings God has bestowed upon me. I am among His elect, I have a Godly wife, wonderful children, a good house in a good neighborhood, and God even enabled me to build my own airplane. He has been very good to me. I just have trouble accepting that there are others who can handle their wealth well. I’m not denying it’s true mind you, it’s just my acceptance of the concept that is the difficulty.

    I think it’s kind of a cop out to say that a “poor” family would have trouble with a wealthy elder because of envy. I find that the poorest are generally more giving and less concerned about things — because they don’t have many. I think the poor are judged far more often than the wealthy. After all the wealthy meet the world standard of success. They are useful productive members of society. The poor or the near-poor are just under-acheivers who obviously have misused the gifts God has given them. The poor are indeed blessed by God through their lack of possessions. It’s just a personal opinion mind you, but I believe a wealthy elder could learn a lot from those who live with less. Is it necessary to buy a big house with lots of land? Is it necessary to take extravagant vacations? There are lots of ways to rationalize and justify these things but is this the way a shepherd should live? Is the lifestyle sober and Godly or does the lifestyle conform to worldly standards? Besides, if offends a Christian brother that you eat meat, refrain from eating the meat lest you cause him to stumble. Feel free to point out if you believe that is a missapplication of that scripture.

    My answer to you is, yes, I do pray for my elders nightly, that they would have the wisdom beyond their years to lead the church, that they take wise and sober decisions for the charges under their watch, that they would not create a two-tiered church with the elders on one level, and the church body on another. I pray that the shepherds would live among their sheep. 🙂

  5. th

    Just a few final comments, though I’ve enjoyed the conversation.

    Many who have less are content with less. That is a godly virtue and one that we should all endeavor to possess, even if we have more. Unfortunately, the flesh is strong and most people struggle with temptation. For those with less, it can be discontentment because it is so hard to just make ends meet. It can be envy because others seem to have everything “given to them” or don’t have to work as hard. For those with more, it can be the entanglement with wealth and a host of other issues. You are right to imply that in the final analysis, it is better to be a sheep than a camel.

    I would never suggest that the poor deserve to be so; some certainly do – “the sluggard shall not eat.” But some are simply poor due to circumstance. Some, as you say, are poor because that is God’s allotment to them (perhaps, as you also say, a blessing).

    Our Lord is rich beyond measure and yet He gave up His prerogatives. Our Elders need to do the same. If they are not willing to part with their wealth, then they should not remain Elders. But must they part with their wealth, as a requirement for leadership? Is that the criterion for “living with the sheep?”

    I liked your questions about extravagant vacations and possessions. I don’t think an Elder must part with his wealth, but I think, as you have said, that he must be mindful of his flock. I’ve never cared for pastors who buy the $60,000 Mercedes and drive them proudly around. Hopefully that doesn’t conflict with what I’ve said to this point. I don’t think the pastor has to give up his ability to buy the car; just that the purchase might not be the most prudent thing to do.

    At the same time, while Elders need to be mindful of the “weaker brother,” they also must help to correct issues of envy and discontenment if they exist. I don’t know, Dutchman, I don’t envy the Elder, do you? What did the Greeks say? Moderation in all things?

    I do know when God has given us a godly Elder. His humility, wisdom, and sacrificial leadership come to the fore. In that type of situation it doesn’t matter how much money he has. Wouldn’t you agree?

    Perhaps our concern about wealth is a peripheral topic. Maybe the reason why we start looking at these kinds of things, if we aren’t struggling with our own issues, is that a particular Elder may not be doing his job well. It’s easy to poke at the shepherd when he’s not doing his job. Not saying that’s what you’re doing – but I think it’s a temptation for the sheep to run at the shepherd if he’s not looking.

    Anyway…thanks for bringing up the topic – I’m glad I happened to see your website and your posts.

  6. The Flying Dutchman

    “At the same time, while Elders need to be mindful of the “weaker brother,” they also must help to correct issues of envy and discontenment if they exist.”

    That’s a great point and I think that’s what I’ve been poking around the whole time. It is not a sin to be affluent but anyone especially elders, need to be mindful that they don’t inspire a weaker brother to envy. No, I’m glad there are those who are called to be an elder and rise to their calling. I was called to a quieter and much smaller ministry, my family.

    TH, you sound like a very Godly man, I hope you continue to share your insights and wisdom. May God bless you with “just enough.” 🙂

  7. David H

    I agree with everything that you guys have said. But recently I was listening to a sermon on Ezekiel Ch. 28 titled “Sympathy” and it approaches this issue of men in spiritual positions who use that position for selfish purposes.

    I think it’s clear from Ezekiel 28 that the king of Tyrus is Satan, symbolically. But who is the Price of Tyrus? Some earthly representative? But even if it doesn’t make sense to you, I think that lessons from this chapter can be learned.

    Lucifer became lifted up because of his beauty (gifts which God had created him with). He was in the highest spiritual position in heaven, second only to God and His Son. It says in verse 4 that with this “wisdom” and “understanding” he had gotten riches. And in verse 5 by this great wisdom (which God had given him) and “traffik” (trading) he had increased in riches and his heart was lifted up. In verse 16 it says that by the “multitude of they merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned.”

    I believe this “traffick” is using a spiritual position for selfish purposes.

    We live in a time when there are more wealthy people in the world than ever before, and I believe that this is mostly the working of Satan. I would rather be poor than to be made rich by the devil. Men are trying with feverish intensity to gain as much wealth as possible. Huge mergers, monopolies and oligopolies. Trade unions that resort to violence if terms are not met and would kill “scabs” if given the opportunity. Exploitation of foreign workers that are paid starvation wages while a few men amass colossal fortunes.

    There is nothing wrong with wealth if it is gained honorably, and the man recognizes that it is an entrusted talent given to him to bless his fellow man. God may test you to see what you would do with wealth. Since he is going to give it to you in heaven and the earth made new. Will you use it to glorify him, or to glorify self?

    We have the tenth commandment that tells us not to covet anything that another man has. If a man has gained wealth honestly then there is nothing wrong with that. But I believe that using the Gospel to get rich is a crime and you shouldn’t support a minister that is using it thus. The tithe money is for the spread of the gospel, not a pastor’s Mercedes. And if it (tithe) is not used for God’s intended purpose it will be a curse. A minister should be able to make a living as much as the members of the church, and the members have an obligation to make sure he can make a living. You are not to “muzzle the ox when he treads out the grain.”

    I could go on and on. The Bible is full of instruction with regard to money. But I think Ezekiel 28 is a striking warning against “traffick” and “merchandizing” the gospel. Jesus took a whip and drove them out of the temple saying, “Make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise.”

    “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen……the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies…..Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works…..How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning and famine, and she shall be utterly burned with fire. For strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.” Revelation 18: 2,3,6,7,8

    “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered, and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your field, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth, and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of saboath.” James 5:14

  8. The Flying Dutchman

    I don’t have much regard for the televangelist that has made his fortune through the offerings of his viewers and followers. That’s a fairly clear line that has been crossed. What I’ve been debating in my head and in this forum is what if the line is more blurred? What if the minister or elder isn’t really rich yet is much better off than most of his charges? Let’s just say having a large house maybe even with a pool on a large property that produces crops? Now consider that his sheep range from upper middle class all the way to losing money every month while paying the bills. How empathetic could that theoretical elder be toward that theoretical sheep? Would he truly understand the problems faced by a majority of the flock? Would the church leader fall into the “go forth and be warmed” trap. In other words thinking that one day the Lord will help out the family of lessor means and thus bring them more in line with the rest of the church. Do we as Christians give to God only by giving to the church or can we give to God by helping Christian brothers and sisters in need? Do wealthy church leaders have a double obligation to help out Christian families in need?

    Of couse, it might also be interesting to turn the arguement around. Could an impoverished pastor truly serve a community of affluent sheep? No matter which angle you consider one must wonder; would the divide cause one to envy the station of the wealthier party? Is the onus simply on the more impoverished person to not envy? Does the wealthy party have any obligation to moderate his lifestyle so as not to lead someone into the sin of envy?

    My personal opinion is that a lay member of a church body may choose to do with his wealth as he wishes. However, and this is my personal opinion, I feel that a church leader must be sober in his lifestyle always cognizant that he must conduct himself and his family in such a way as reasonably as possible to not to lead anyone to sin. One way of manifesting this, in my opinion would be for the church leader to refrain from purchasing extravagant posessions. To do so is to conform to the world.

    And this only one of MANY reasons I could never be a church leader. 🙂

  9. W Riggio

    Flying Dutchman, this sounds like this is somewhat of a troubling concern for you. It sounds like you have had ministers that have tainted your view and failed to be servant leaders to you or lorded their wealth before their congregation. I don’t have a definition of what an affluent minister is and I would lean to agree with the response that said all Americans are affluent – even me and you. Compare the tragedies of flooding in New Orleans with the tidal wave in southeast Asia. The sheer wealth of Americans prevented any suffering and prolonged subsequent deaths because they could afford to recover quickly unlike those in Asia that experienced death for weeks following because they did not have the resources needed immediately. We are a rich country.
    Getting back to ministers, i have not experienced ministers of affluence. Most ministers I know have a hard time making ends meet so I think your situation is rare. Even so, it may be that your thinking is faulty. When does someone need to be in a situation to minister to others in that same situation. Does a minister have to take drugs to minister to a addict? Does a minister have to leave his/her spouse to offer counsel to a divorced member in the congregation? I don’t think so. God ministers through his people regardless of their possessions or position. Maybe God has made a minister affluent just so he doesn’t have to worry about his day to day needs and can focus on the families in the church and not be a financial burden to them. Maybe this lets him serve full time instead of getting a part-time job to pay the bills and having a preacher not worry about his next paycheck can free him to minister to all of his congregation.
    The question for any Christian in this situation should be one of being content. Are we content with our job, our spouse, our children and our position or do we look around with discontentment and jealousy? As far as the minister is concerned do they have a heart of contentment? Do they use their affluence for ministry? Are thye hospitable? Do they care for the congregation away from church?
    Just my ideas on the topic.

  10. The Flying Dutchman

    First of all, as to my current elders, I firmly do not believe they fall into the category I am discussing. I’ve stated this in previous comments but perhaps not clear enough. As far as my elders are concerned, they do have a heart of contentment, they absolutely use their affluence for ministry, are hospitable, and they very much care for the congregation away from church. Yes, they are affluent but again, I do not believe the elders at my current church fall into the category we are discussing. You do bring up a good point however. In America, just exactly how is affluence defined? Compared to most of the world we are all very wealthy. Compared to other Americans there can be a wide disparity.

    As to the ministers and leaders of my past, the men who were actually in ministry were very good, Godly men. The lay leaders of the church, eh, from my point of view, not so much. The minister or teaching elder in my current church is a kind and very patient man. There is nothing I would not entrust to and with him. The other elders are very good men too, I just have a little more trust in a man who’s been through the entire ordination process. He’s had the training, put in the time, and the fruits show. I’m still watching the other elders but I have high hopes for them.

    You make some very good points about what situation one must be in to serve others in a possibly different situation. I don’t need to be a drug addict to have empathy for a drug addict. In fact, as a drug addict I’m in a very poor position to serve another drug-addict. This is an extreme example but I understand the point you were trying to make.

    I can understand your points completely and I think that it’s largely true. It’s just that whenever I read Acts, and read how the early Christians lived among and with one another… I can’t help but wonder, has the influence of the world so penetrated the Church that we can no longer even perceive it? Are we in America so used to our affluence that we can no longer see what a hinderance it can be?

    This has really become an interesting discussion! 😀

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